The Jamie Lynn Spears Debate

Ross and Reihan made a couple of points recently about the way in which lower middle class voters - who may have much higher rates of illegitimacy, teen pregnancy, and abortion than upper middle class Americans - often favor social conservatives such as Mike Huckabee. Ross:

There's actually a serious argument for why Mike Huckabee (or any social conservative) ought to find his strongest constituency among people with the misfortune to grow up in a world where meeting your boyfriend at church and having his baby out of wedlock aren't mutually exclusive propositions.


All this brings to mind the debate over, as conservatives put it, the sanctity of marriage, and in particular same-sex marriage. Why is it that the same voters who are most likely to experience divorce or family disruption are often the same voters who oppose same-sex marriage and other socially liberal measures? As Garance Franke-Ruta put it,

Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle class people they want to be like. It should come as no surprise that the politics of reaction is strongest where there is most to react to.

But, er, what does this actually logically have to do with same-sex marriage? How does allowing gay couples to get married somehow impact the illegitimacy rates of the Spears family? The only conceivable linkage is that many rednecks' disdain of gays means that allowing us to marry inherently debases the institution and thereby makes it less attractive. But this argument requires raw prejudice as a premise. And a premise that Ross and Reihan - who have not a soupcon of homophobia between them - just assume as a given.

The second assumption is that same-sex marriage is, in Reihan's words, a "socially liberal measure", and therefore legitimately opposed by social conservatives. But why is it "socially liberal" to encourage mutual responsibility, caring, fidelity, economic prudence, and an institution that fosters self-esteem, family integration and social responsibility? In a society where gay people exist, why is it a socially conservative position to ensure that they are discouraged from mutual caring and responsibility and encouraged - by stigma and marginalization and legal discrimination - to engage in all those activities that the depressed, alienated and despised often do: drug use, alcoholism, sexual irresponsibility, instability, and social isolation?

I know I've made this case a thousand times. But it never seems to penetrate. I understand why it makes no sense to Huckabee supporters, for whom gay relationships are anathema for purely Biblical reasons (however irrationally applied). But it still depresses me that allegedly tolerant figures in the intelligentsia still assume it, and almost never challenge it.